Belgian rider Eli Iserbyt won Sunday’s Under-23 Men’s World Cyclocross Championship in a two-up sprint with Czech rider Adam Toupalik. Iserbyt, who was runner-up at last year’s junior world championship, also won the U23 World Cup overall this year.
The day’s drama, however, came on the penultimate lap, when then-leader Toupalik raised his hands in victory after crossing the finish line, thinking he’d won the race. Toupalik soon realized he had another lap to go, but the hesitation allowed Iserbyt and Belgian rider Quinten Hermans to catch up.
After the race, Iserbyt said he felt Toupalik lost focus and momentum after the blunder.
“I knew his focus wasn’t in the last lap because he thought it had been the finish,” Iserbyt said. “It was an advantage for me.”
Toupalik said the confusion occurred after he heard fans shouting “last lap” as he navigated the muddy course in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. The Czech rider said the shouts convinced him he was on his way to victory.
“Somebody was shouting, ‘last lap last lap,’ so I kept pushing, pushing and was not focused on the [lap] numbers,” Toupalik said. “And then I said ‘Oh, there is something wrong,’ but I didn’t have enough energy in the last lap as the lap before.”
Toupalik attacked on the final lap but was unable to shed the two Belgian riders. Hermans finished third, with Belgian rider Thijs Aerts in fourth.
Americans Logan Owen and Curtis White struggled in the muddy conditions, which slowed the race down and required riders to muscle through many sections Owen, the two-time defending U-23 national champion, spent the day chasing the leaders and eventually finished 13th.
Owen said his race hinged on a short, steep climb on the race’s backside, which required a huge power output to navigate.
“I wasn’t strong enough to ride it, and that’s where I lost the race today,” Owen said. “I was able to do everything else as fast as the front group, but [the hill] is what made me not able to keep up.”
White rocketed to the front of the race from the gun, but was distanced after the first lap, and spent much of the day chasing. He finished 18th. “It’s a solid result,” White said. “I was hoping for more.”
After the race, winner Iserbyt said he plans to remain in the U-23 ranks next year, instead of stepping into the elite field. “I will maybe do one or two [elite races],” he said. “I’m not ready for the elite races yet.”